National Basketball Association
Jaylen Brown against the world: Criticism 'made me who I am'
National Basketball Association

Jaylen Brown against the world: Criticism 'made me who I am'

Updated Jun. 9, 2024 10:45 a.m. ET

Jaylen Brown is grateful for the hate.

He has kept receipts of all the slights and jabs, using them as motivation to transform his game.

"All the things that I thought were setting me back or adversity ended up being the biggest blessings," Brown told FOX Sports. "Getting moved to the bench, even trade talks, getting booed, whatever the fans were saying, overpaid, overrated. All of that stuff made me who I am today. It drove my work ethic. And it drove my demeanor."

Now, Brown is shining on the brightest of stages. He was named Eastern Conference Finals MVP and has led the Boston Celtics to their second NBA Finals appearance in three years.


But for Brown, the moments that reverberate most are the hurtful ones. In fact, he says they changed him.

Brown is stoic. There's a seriousness about him. He describes himself as being machine-like.

He says he wasn't always this way. But once the criticism intensified, he had to adjust in order to cope. He created an alter-ego of sorts, a way of steeling himself against the world. 

"I've been developing it for so long I completely forget where it comes from," Brown told FOX Sports. "But it comes from the outside world and me navigating it. I felt like I had to build it to protect myself. I've been in it for so long I can't even remember what it is not to be like this. It makes you a little robotic. But I needed to do that to survive."

Brown's so-called villain origin story began on draft night in 2016, a moment he had dreamt about since he was a child. After commissioner Adam Silver announced that Boston had selected him as the No. 3 overall pick, cameras panned to Celtics fans putting their hands on their heads in disappointment. At a watch party for season ticket holders, fans booed. The following day, the Washington Post ran a story with the following headline: "Celtics selected one potential bust after another at 2016 NBA Draft."

A moment that was supposed to be filled with elation was instead deeply mortifying. 

"It just makes you zero in yourself," Brown told FOX Sports. "You've kinda got to block out everything. It just teaches you in that moment, you can't get too high or too low. I learned that right away from that instance. And then going from there, I don't expect anything, any praise or whatever."

Over the years, the criticism hasn't quieted.

He's mocked for not being able to drive left. He's called the second-best player on the Celtics behind Jayson Tatum. He's been involved in countless trade rumors and was temporarily moved to a bench role during the 2018-19 season. This year, he didn't make any All-NBA teams despite the Celtics finishing No. 1 in the league in offense and No. 2 in defense. And after he penned the richest contract in NBA history last July, a supermax worth up to $304 million over five years, detractors ripped him for not being worth that kind of money. 

"That's just hard for me to believe," Hall of Famer Rick Barry told host Joy De'Angela in an interview to promote the BIG3 League last August. "His average in the playoffs for them is 18.5 points a game. I mean, 18.5 points a game. And he's going to make $69 million in the last year of his contract. But 18.5 points a game — that's nothing! Seriously."

For Brown, it has all taken a toll.

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"I always have a chip on my shoulder because I feel like how I think of myself, others don't think of me," Brown told FOX Sports. "It makes you want to go work and go out and prove everything."

That mentality has helped Brown transform his game. He has poured himself into being a three-level scorer, capable of shooting 3s, driving and pulling up for mid-range shots. He has grown into a dogged defender who often takes on the opposing team's star. And he tightened his ball-handling skills after being jeered for having eight turnovers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals last year against Miami.

This season, Brown shined in the Eastern Conference finals. He made a 3-pointer at the buzzer to force overtime in Game 1 against Indiana. Then, in Game 2 of that series, he scored 40 points on a night when Tatum was struggling with his shot.

Brown went on to star in Game 1 of the Finals, finishing with a team-high 22 points, six rebounds, three steals and three blocks in the Celtics' 107-89 win over Dallas. When asked about Brown's impact, Mavericks coach Jason Kidd didn't hold back.

"Jaylen is their best player," Kidd said. "Just looking at what he does defensively. He picked up Luka [Doncic] full court. He got to the free-throw line. He did everything, and that's what your best player does."

But even that comment was met with skepticism and widely interpreted as gamesmanship by Kidd to stir up controversy in the Celtics' locker room between Tatum and Brown, as opposed to just being genuine praise. Though, Jrue Holiday seconded Kidd, saying, "I don't think he's lying. I think JB has been aggressive in every single way."

Brown knows that with his salary, expectations of him are through the roof. He and Tatum have failed to lead the Celtics to a championship, despite making six conference finals appearances. He understands he has to do better. 

This postseason, he's averaging career-highs in points (24.8) and field goal percentage (54.3) while also starring on the defensive end. He hopes things will finally be different. 

On Media Day, when asked about the criticism he has received throughout his career, he responded by referencing a proverb. "The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth."

That's how Brown is trying to approach every game — with unbridled fire. 

And for Brown, it was the criticism that lit the spark. 

"It allowed me to not care or not be affected by what anybody has to say because my first introduction was I got booed," Brown told FOX Sports.

Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.


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